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‘Blueshirt Fan in Predators Country

06/07/2017 – For hockey fans that have not had a chance to see the Nashville Predators play at home – you have missed out.

My first experience seeing the ‘Preds play at home was the first weekend of May, while my family was enroute to my daughter’s graduation in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama. I thought to myself, while on the flight to Atlanta from Westchester County Airport NY, that I might find it hard to see my beloved New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Playoffs have to battle against the Ottawa Senators – as the Sens were tough competition.

The Deep South is not known to be a hockey hot bed, although there have been notable exceptions with Cam Talbot who laced up for the University of Alabama Huntsville.

Driving to Sweet Home Alabama, we stopped for a delicious Chic-Fil-A, breakfast; my brother and his wife were meeting us at ‘Bama for the graduation, which was where I learned that we would go to Nashville to see the ‘Preds skate at home – as the Blues extended the series.  We extended the family vacation and luckily the timing  of the game worked out for us. The drive was only three hours too so it was convenient.

We arrived in Nashville on Saturday and immediately caught a Luke Bryan concert. The next day was the ‘Preds game – and we decided to stroll over to the rink early because the outside festivities. Excitingly, there were two die-hard New York Rangers fans on a long road trip not far from Dixieland, New Orleans – we had an instant connection as lifelong NY’ers and agreed they need to improve for next season.

A gracious elderly gentleman, decked out in ‘Preds gear, stopped us and put his arms around me and my brother – saying a mandatory smile was necessary before we entered the arena. We looked out of place and lost, which is what must have caught the mans attention about us – in addition to me wearing my shirt collar Rangers pin.

As we walked ahead, in front of us was a beat-up blue convertible car with writing on the side that said ‘Blues’. It cost five bucks a swing to smash it with a sledgehammer. I was amused to see a person wearing a ‘Blues jersey take a swing at it! It was not too far-fetched — because all the money went to charity. This is where Nashville earned the nickname “Smashville,” – I said to myself.

We stopped at a concession stand to grab a couple of beers upon entering the arena. The energy among fans was electrical – the crowd was ecstatic. Games at Bridgestone Arena and Madison Square Garden, where I watch the NY Rangers play, are two different worlds. The beer in Nashville was a few bucks cheaper then MSG’s, the concessionaires were gracious, outgoing and full of Southern hospitality, and barbecue was the main fare on the menu – opposed to Franks Red Hots.

The arena is quite a site; every seat inside had a small gold ‘Preds towel draped over it, and their logo was stunning from our rows in the 20th column. At least 90% of the fans were wearing ‘Preds apparel.

Behind us was a transplanted couple from New Jersey that drove an hour and a half to get to the game – they were excited because they’d just purchased 2017-2018 preseason tickets in a section similar to the Rangers Famous Blue Seats — very far above where we were sitting. The deal was incredible: they got almost front row playoff tickets as part of the season ticket deal…. Sweet!  They had also received an extra seat to bring a guest to every fifth regular season game; free parking for any event at the arena throughout the year, and I will not yield the price they paid for the package – but it would be that of a small mortgage if it were at Madison Square Garden (MSG).

The crowd was amped when the ‘Preds came on the ice, and far exceeded that of what you hear at MSG. Lady Antebellum, the Nashville based country music band, sang the national anthem before the game. They were spectacular and the crowd loved them. Nashville may be home to a National Hockey League team, but they use marketing similarities to that of an AHL franchise, which provides fans with a easy-going family atmosphere.

The ‘Preds mascot would stand at one of the exits and bang on a drum with everyone clapping to the beat in between faceoffs. The mascot later climbed up a ladder and waived a team flag from the ice, and the fans went wild and egged him on with each step. I made sure to mention to the Nashville fans next to me that they would be egging him on to jump if this were at MSG.

About twenty seat rows behind one of the goalies nets was a VIP area where all the stars sat, such as members of the Tennessee Titans football team, and the band ‘Paramore’ — who waived their towels and cheered. Third period – the ‘Preds were ahead in score and the volume of the fans resembled the loud speaker system at MSG. It was loud in there!

I noticed a banner at the top of the arena that said, “My ears are bleeding.”  It was louder in this rink than at a Formula 1 car race – even louder than the reaction at MSG after NYR’s Stephen Matheau’s famous goal to beat the New Jersey Devils in double overtime in the 1994 playoffs – the goal that sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals. Preds won and the crowd went wild, as they would be moving on to play the Anaheim Ducks in the Western conference finals.

Everyone walked onto Broadway Street after the game, which is where all the Country Music bars are located. Places like the famous ‘Tootsies’ bar was packed – which is where P. K. Subban sang a rendition of Johnnie Cash’s “Walk the Line” in his first public appearance following his trade to Nashville.

Disclaimer: I will always be a Rangers fan, but my heart is with the ‘Preds to win the Cup – to me their NHL’s version of America’s team.

All hockey fans should see Nashville play a home game at some point – as it was a once in a lifetime experience. I will always ‘Bleed Blue though, as in be a lifelong fan of the other Broadway team from NYC. Go ‘Preds.

 

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